It had been six months since he last found himself alone in bed. They were both heavy sleepers—Spike out of nature, and Buffy out of the freedom that came with no longer being the Chosen One and Only. On the days when he stirred first, he’d lie in bed and watch her. She told him it was creepy, but he didn’t care. He couldn’t get enough of her; how he’d managed as long as he had with naught but insane little whispers to guide him on his path was beyond him. He’d walked away from that—away from darkness and obscurity and toward light. Toward a girl whose spirit and buoyancy filled his nights with a giddy sense of freedom and awe. He had no idea how he’d managed so long without her—how he’d convinced himself he belonged to anyone else when she was so clearly the one for whom he was meant.
Yet when he awoke that morning he was alone. Buffy always stayed in bed until he blinked his eyes open, often feigning sleep so she could catch him staring. The place where she slept was empty, indented with the whisper of her body, but he could tell immediately that she had left his side hours before.
However, that wasn’t what concerned him. Any number of things might have distracted her, and he knew that every day wouldn’t be like the last. It was the fact that he knew almost at once that she had left the apartment that had his chest tightening.
Spike tossed the sheet aside and bounded to his feet.
He always felt her. Always. It was a perk to being her mate—they never felt far apart.
Only he couldn’t feel her now. At all.
It was useless, he knew, but a compulsion he had to act on. Every desperate sod who had stood where he stood now—alone when they should be anything but—had stupidly called out to the person who belonged with them. And just like every desperate sod, he felt his heart drop when he received no response, confused concern transforming into panic in a flash.
“Buffy!” Spike shouted, racing out of the bedroom. He checked the loo even though he didn’t hear the shower running, peeked into the kitchen, and nearly fell to his knees when he ran into the living room.
There was blood on the carpet. Blood that hadn’t been there before.
Blood that Buffy had vomited. He knew that smell, even if he wished he didn’t.
“Oh, God,” Spike muttered.
What the hell had happened here?
“The fuck.” He was moving before he knew where his feet were guiding him, throwing open the front door in a mad rush.
Streams of sunlight poured onto his skin, which blistered and sizzled on impact. Spike howled and stumbled back over the threshold, slamming the door shut with enough force to send the previous tenant’s hideous artwork crashing to the floor.
“Bleeding, buggering fuck!” he screamed, aiming an errant kick into the entertainment center.
Sunlight. Bloody sunlight. How long had she been gone?
Spike cursed again and looked wildly around the room for a clock before settling for the blinking digital face of the VCR clock.
It was just a few minutes after five. Earlier than he typically awoke, but not early enough, goddammit. The sun had been setting early here; he’d just have to wait it out.
Spike sniffed and set his glare on the front door.
Something had happened here. Something beyond bad. And for whatever reason, for some unknown motive, she hadn’t come to him. She’d run.
She’d left him.
“No,” Spike muttered furiously, hands balling into fists. “Not like this.”
Things had been so perfect for so long. He wasn’t about to give that up. Not without an explanation.
Not without a bloody fight.
It took her twelve hours to figure out what happened. Twelve hours of remembering horrors she’d witnessed, crimes she’d perpetrated, blood she’d spilt and painted onto a firm male body. Blood she’d licked off her lover’s skin before giggling madly and losing herself in pure physical ecstasy. Her nights had been dreamless and sound. No waking nightmares of the sins her hands had committed. No, all had been well until that morning. Until the horrible pressure on her chest and the images of everything she’d done, every life she’d taken flashed before her eyes in horrific Technicolor.
There were things she knew. Things she remembered. Things like the costume she’d selected for last Halloween. Was it just last Halloween? Could it be a mere six months had elapsed between then and now? Yes, it had to be. Her memories were real, not fictitious, and try as she might, she couldn’t account anything to lost time. Yesterday she’d awakened in this body without one damn care in the world. She’d looked through her eyes, spoken with her voice, snapped necks with her hands, torn flesh with her fangs, and guzzled blood down her throat. She’d mounted Spike with her legs and teased him with her tongue, and she’d melted into his kiss as his cock thrust into her body. This was all crisp, a perfectly preserved memory. An account for a day Buffy, Buffy Anne Summers, had not lived.
Not really. Not Buffy as she knew herself.
Buffy as she knew herself wouldn’t have been in a bed across the country from her home, cuddled next to a vampire who still smelled of the blood they’d smeared across his body. Buffy as she knew herself belonged on Revello Drive, in school, in the library, in any place except the one she discovered when she opened the apartment door.
God, oh God.
She’d dressed as a vampire that night. Halloween. So long ago. She’d dressed as a vampire out of…what? Fun? Spite? To poke fun at Angel for flirting with Cordelia in her absence? She’d dressed up and then—without any warning of any kind—had found herself sporting an actual honest-to-god pair of fangs. And at once, every care she’d ever entertained, every worry to invade her young, schoolgirl head had become a thing of the past. The once muddy future became clear, even transparent, and the naughty list of secret no-no’s she hadn’t even entrusted to her diary no longer seemed wrong or unattainable. In fact, the lickably evil resident vampire had become oh so very accessible almost immediately.
And that was it. Buffy hadn’t come back to herself. She remembered teasing Spike about making her transition permanent, as well as her relief when she awoke and found him worriedly hovering over her. Since then, they’d been living a life of pure sin without regret…and then…
There was no other explanation. Her friends, most likely…those she’d left behind. They had given her a soul to return her to herself; a soul to bring her back from the dead and into a world where she had no place.
Where ghosts chased her, even when she shut her eyes—where she saw the things she’d done over and over again, and felt it all the more. Felt the fear she’d invoked, the terror she’d relished, and the cries of people who had begged for mercy before she silenced them forever.
No one could live like this.
And what killed her all the more was the screams of the demon inside—the ache splitting her down the middle and singeing every nerve with more pain than it was worth. She knew why it cried, she knew why she hurt.
Every step she took away from Spike, the man she’d tied herself to for eternity, was pure fucking torture.
Buffy had known this would happen. She’d sensed it the second she neared the edge of the city, and though her body had cramped and her chest had tightened, she’d pushed on. It would get better with time—any distance at all had been damn near unbearable during the first week, and while she wasn’t looking forward to the adjustment period, she likewise understood it was a temporary ailment.
Claims were dangerous. Damn dangerous. And she’d linked herself to her enemy.
Buffy blinked back tears and turned her eyes instead to the Greyhound bus she’d been studying for the better part of an hour. Pegging her destination after leaving the apartment hadn’t been easy; these last few weeks had given her a working knowledge of New York, but not enough to have the city behind her by the time the sun set. Maneuvering during the day was damn difficult, and something she and Spike hadn’t yet done together. The wee hours of morning had given her the needed cover to get as far as she could before slipping under a sewer cap and relying on instinct—the same instinct that demanded she turn around and run back to the man she’d abandoned—to get as far as she’d managed. When the angry honks of cab drivers and colorful shouts of pedestrians began to fade, she thought it safe to venture a peek to the world above.
She hadn’t gotten as far as she would have liked, but for the time being, it was far enough. The closest feasible landmark had been a luxury hotel, crowded with what appeared to be senior citizens on a group tour of the Big Apple. One such tour looked to be heading out at nightfall—likely so the travelers would sleep through the bulk of the journey—and though Buffy hadn’t the foggiest idea where they were headed, she knew she’d be on the bus.
She couldn’t stop the small cry that bubbled off her lips anymore than she could stop the two tears that came with it. Buffy sniffed hard and pulled herself away from the hotel’s entrance. Once the bellhops began loading the luggage in the cargo hold, she’d make her move. It’d be a tight fit, but hey, no oxygen needed for the heartbeat deprived. At least there, it wouldn’t matter what time it was. Sunlight wouldn’t be an issue.
No, the only issue would be the pure torture of putting so much distance between herself and where her demon thought she belonged.
Buffy forced out a sigh, though it honestly hurt to breathe, and turned to the payphone she’d located shortly after sneaking inside. There had been a modest amount of cash and a whole mountain of coins at the apartment—courtesy of the now-deceased residents—and she’d snatched every penny she could before leaving. Granted, her destination remained undecided, but she’d known she’d need money and she wasn’t quite up to the task of picking pockets. Her initial, Buffy reaction was to call Giles or her mom—tell them where she was and what had happened, though it seemed a moot point. Giles would know where she was, and if her mother didn’t know already, then it might be a crushingly unnecessary shock to hear the voice of her presumed-dead daughter on the other end of a phone.
Still, she needed to talk to someone. Anyone would do. She needed to know the world she’d awakened in was the one she’d left behind…though honestly, she didn’t know whether or not the answer would make her reality any better.
Buffy dug into her pockets for change. A quick punch of numbers later and the phone was ringing.
Only the voice that answered was not the one she’d expected.
“Buffy?” he demanded, the name barking out in a terrible marriage of fear and outrage.
Something in her chest cooed in relief as the rest of her went still with dread.
“Buffy?” Spike shouted again. “Hello?”
Hang up. Hang. Up.
But she couldn’t hang up, and she knew it. Just hearing his voice was enough to calm the raging storm. It gave her the illusion of being near him, and the demon needed the illusion.
The relief on the other end was palpable. She saw him sighing, his knees bending as he collapsed onto something—a sofa perhaps. “Bloody hell, give a fella a heart-attack, why don’t you?” Spike said with a nervous laugh. “Where are you, love?”
“Where are you?” she countered lamely. Someone behind her yelled at a bellhop, distracting her but not well enough.
“You rang me up, pet, not the other way around.”
“The apartment?” she guessed. It was the only thing that made sense. “I…uhhh…I didn’t even know I knew this number.”
“Where are you? What’s wrong? There’s blood on the carpet, sweetheart, and you weren’t here when I—”
“I’m…I’m leaving, Spike.” Her eyes traveled back to the Greyhound as though seeking reassurance. It was still there, and its passengers had yet to file outside. “I’m leaving right now.”
“The bleeding hell you are! Where are you?”
“I’m not coming back.”
“What the hell is going on? Did I do something? Tell me if I did something.”
“You didn’t do anything,” she said, hating herself for the lie but not knowing any truth she could give him that would begin to explain. He hadn’t done anything except turn her into her nightmare. He hadn’t done anything except set her free. He hadn’t done anything except be the man she needed. He hadn’t done anything except not have a soul, and she couldn’t begin to explain that.
Not with every inch of her body breaking.
“Buffy, please!” He swore. “It’s another ten minutes before sunset, love. You’ve got to tell me where you are.”
“I’m so sorry, Spike.”
“TELL ME WHAT’S WRONG, GODDAMMIT!”
She winced and wiped her eyes. She hadn’t even realized she was crying until tears blurred her vision. “I’m sorry…”
“Tell me where you—”
“I’ve gotta go. I’m sorry.”
“I love you! You hear me, Buffy? I love—”
She hung up, her hand shaking. The phone rattled with crushing normalcy. Sound returned within easy seconds—the swing of the lobby doors, the rush of occupants checking in and out of the hotel, and the racing pulses that came with them. The sort that reminded her she hadn’t eaten since last night, and there was only one thing on the menu that would appease her hunger.
The world returned and not much had changed.
She was still a vampire. Still on the wrong side of the continent from home. Still hopelessly alone.
Her inner demon began wailing again, but this time she didn’t fight it.
This time, its pain was her pain.
“We thought we would have heard from her by now, right?” Xander blinked and glanced around the library, as though expecting a show of hands. “Right?”
There was no immediate answer, which was fair since the question was fairly open-ended. Willow and Jenny Calendar sat at one table, sharing a book on the occult and restoration rituals. It seemed Giles and Angel couldn’t sit; the normally rigid librarian had bounded to his feet seconds after settling in a chair, and the vampire had consigned himself to the shadows near the staircase. No one seemed to know where to look.
The past few hours had been long and tense, and they only looked to get longer. After what Jenny had proclaimed as a successful restoration—at least insofar as what she experienced in conducting it—the silence that followed had been insufferable. Xander had arrived after an hour or so of Joyce’s phone not ringing only to find himself in a similar hell of waiting, though this time with more company. No one wanted to move yet standing still yielded few results.
“I still don’t see why we can’t just attempt the soul-spell again,” Xander said when no one responded to his question.
Giles rolled his eyes. “As we have said—I believe seven times—attempting a restoration ritual on someone who already harbors a soul is completely out of the question.”
“No one can handle more than one of anything in them,” Angel said. “Vampires only have one demon, humans only have one soul.”
“You have one of each,” Xander argued.
“Yes, but as we discovered with Eyghon, I can’t have two demons. If the spell worked and we try to put another soul in her, it could kill her. Even if it didn’t, we still wouldn’t know whose soul it was and it could get destroyed in the process, as the only soul that can exist in any body is the one made for it.” Angel tossed a glance to Giles. “I don’t think we’ve given her enough time. The sort of person Buffy is with the magnitude of what she’s done…I remember this. She won’t want to see anyone for a long, long time.”
“Even if she knows we’re the ones who did the ritual?” Willow asked desperately. “S-she’d know we did it, right? And that means we want her back?”
Angel shrugged. “We can’t know what she’s thinking. I just know that if the spell worked and Buffy is back, we can’t put her on a time-table. She’ll come to us when she comes to us.”
“I can work on a location spell, in the meantime,” Jenny offered, flipping through the pages of the text she and Willow shared until she landed on the right chapter. “I’ve never done one, obviously…but if Buffy is back and if she needs help, she might not want to tell us where she is. We can go to her just as easily if that’s the case.”
“It might make things worse,” Angel volunteered. “If we force ourselves on her—”
“It wouldn’t be force,” Willow argued, frowning. “We just want her to know—”
“This isn’t something that can be explained or understood. She’ll come at her own pace.”
The shrill ring of the library phone punctuated the vampire’s sentence with a large exclamation point. Xander nearly toppled off the table and Giles jumped out of his skin. It took a second ring before it registered on anyone that they hadn’t imagined it.
“That’s her!” Willow cried. “It has to be!”
Jenny jumped to her feet. “Rupert!”
But Giles was already moving. No one had ever seen him run so fast. The phone was in its third ring by the time he picked up, shouting an eager, “Hello!” into the receiver. There was a moment’s pause, and then his shoulder’s sagged and he braced the counter for support. “Buffy…”
Willow and Xander hurried forward like children on Christmas morning.
Giles held up a hand. “I…oh, Buffy…I…”
There was a scream on the other end of the line, muffled but powerful enough to thunder through the library like a cannon. The redhead jumped and nearly knocked Xander off his feet. Angel winced and Jenny’s hand went to her heart.
“Buffy, Buffy, please…”
Another cry, this one softer. And then the line went dead.
Giles stood mutely with the phone glued to his ear, shock and grief splattered across his worn face as though someone had fired a bullet into his gut.
“What?” Xander demanded. “What the—”
“It’s Buffy,” Angel said.
“She’s…” Giles cleared his throat, his glasses falling swiftly into the waiting hem of his sweater vest. “She says she’s not coming home.”
“Oh, God,” Willow said, her voice strained.
Jenny took a step forward. “Rupert?”
Giles blinked hard and glanced up. “She said…God, she’ll never forgive me. She’ll never…”
And that was it. The man fell to the ground behind the counter with a devastated sob, choking on words that wouldn’t come.
They ran to him, of course, but comfort didn’t exist.
They’d played their hand and failed. Nothing could make this better.
Just seconds now. He was just seconds away.
“Come on, you bastard,” he muttered, keeping his eye on the clock. The weatherman had pegged for night to fall at 5:41, just seconds away from now; it was all Spike could do to keep from rushing out prematurely. He wouldn’t do her any good if he got himself fried—he could barely do her any good at all. Standing here like a dolt when she needed him, when she was out there, hurting and needing him.
God, he was going to bruise her so good for doing this to him. For making him this sick with worry.
“Come on,” Spike hissed, his heel twitching.
He focused for a second—just a second to keep himself occupied—on the name he’d heard in the background during their brief and infuriating phone conversation. The name that had inspired him to tear the bloody apartment apart in search of a phone book, and from there given him the starting point. He knew where she was, or where she had been when she placed that call. Now all he had to do was get there, knock some heads together, and find out where she’d gone.
What could have possibly been so horrible…
“Fucking finally!” he snarled, storming for the door at long last.
Something exploded just as his fingers grazed the knob, sending him stumbling on his feet in half a blink. Dust billowed and splinters flew, and Spike found himself on his back before he had time to curse. It took a second or two to realize what had happened, and another five to register reality with the face of the unfamiliar, nasty-looking bint pointing the business end of a crossbow at his throat.
He was so fucking sick of crossbows.
She cocked her head and flashed him a smile he ached to rip off her face. “Going somewhere, blondie?”
“You are in my way,” Spike growled, wiping dust off his mouth. His every nerve had gone tight, tension pounding his temples and the demon’s roar deafening everything else. It didn’t take much to peg who the bird was, but at the moment he couldn’t give a fuck. All that mattered was that she stood between him and the door.
“Well, we’ll just save the introductions for later, then,” the girl said, taking a step forward. “Here to see a vamp about a lady.”
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